Spaces, the volume of the structure, the parts of the building we move through are capable of giving us enormous experiences- experiences that differ to individuals. The space that may be appreciated and suitable for one may not be the same or similar for another.

Laurie Baker and his beliefs were greatly inspired by the philosophy of how a space could be made comfortable and compatible for ones living in it with minimal harm to its natural surroundings. The project – Karimadom colony, witnesses the true philosophy of Baker for not just understanding the user and their necessities and needs, but also designing a comfortable & compatible house with minimum harm to its natural surroundings.

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karimadom colony_©
Redevelopment or transformation - A perecption of Baker's Karmadom colony - Sheet2
karimadom pond currently_©

The project Karimadom colony was initiated for the slums that located themselves around a pond in the heart of Trivandrum city, Kerala. The pond was created to improve the drainage of the temple in the vicinity, but over the years degenerated into a sewage pond with frequent flooding and encroachment around the pond, gradually developing it into a Karimadom slum. 

The 300-year-old Chalai market, the Manacaud market, and a railway station with a distance of 1km were main sources of employment and so relocating were neither feasible nor considerable.

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The major source of employment for people residing in Karimadom colony is chalai market _©

When enquired about what could be done, “A great deal . We can recycle it; that is to say, we can build at the same site low-cost structures that accommodate an equal number of people, and provide plenty of open space and other facilities” said Laurie baker. Baker analyzed the lifestyles of the people located in the Karimadom slum very carefully. He keenly observed that every family required open space to execute their activities or run their local business. He also took notice of how closely bound these locals were to their traditional Kerala lifestyle, homes being naturally lit and ventilated efficiently and having sufficient recreational spaces- also one of the prime reasons to be reluctant to shift their homes on higher floors.

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residential units with community spaces in Karimadom_©keralasandarshanam.wordpress

A building resembling ‘seats in a stadium’ was proposed considering units such that the ones on the ground floor could use spaces on the ground, and the ones on higher for terraces to be used as open spaces for activities.

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floor plans of karimadom_©

A plan of 8 units on the ground, 6 units on the first, 4 units on the second, and 2 units on the third floor was proposed. Every unit had a linear layout with a terrace, living cum room, a kitchen, a bedroom, and an extra storage space under the staircase. Replacing dense huts with four-story apartments provided more space on the ground for gardening, cattle, and recreational uses.

As believed, this concept of Baker shot two birds with one stone. Moving vertical decreased the demand on ground coverage and allowed these plots to form into community spaces and open spaces. Also, the ascending order of the blocks allowed open terraces for each dwelling on the upper floor, compensating the dwellers with private spaces as recreational activities.

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section of karimadom_©

Every unit consisted of a very simple and linear layout where the entry of the house was through the terrace, adjoined by the kitchen and a toilet located opposite to each other, and gave access to the bedroom inside. Baker’s idea of compensating with a multifunction terrace provided these families with the flexibility of personalizing their homes and adapting them to suit their needs and requirements. The multipurpose terrace could accommodate activities like – launderers drying their clothes, craftsmen utilizing it as their workspace, people housing their pets, women using it as extensions to their kitchens, and alternatively utilizing the space to relax with family and friends. Also, larger families could enclose the spaces for additional rooms.

Construction techniques like filler slab with Mangalore tiles as a filler material, and brick lintels were used to reduce the usage of concrete. Also, the walls were left unplastered as Baker believed that exposed materials reveal true characteristics and nature of the material and also help in the cost reduction of the building by 10%.

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jaliwork, exposed brickwork & filler slab_©

As the staggering of apartments created very functional spaces, Baker and the Centre for Science and Technology for Rural Development (an Organization founded by Baker) began to recreate the dead spaces between the buildings as mixed-use areas such as stores and libraries, which would contribute to creating a better environment in the colony and attract people to utilize these areas and amenities, and effort to making the interaction between the slum dwellers and the residents, thus creating a healthy relationship for the city on a broader level.

A place filled with muggings and drug dealers in the past, now is sought as a safe location with improved hygiene and security. Karimadom till now has successfully provided homes for more than 836 families and stands as an extraordinary example of cost-effective & compatible housing for the “urban poor”. 

one residential block of karimadom colony_©

References: (n.d.). The Reserve: Archive of Top-Reviewed Essays | Berkeley Prize Essay Competition. [online] Available at:


Disha is an architecture graduate from Nagpur University, 2021. Being an avid traveler, she has always tried to connect the city’s art & culture with architecture. She is a keen learner & an extremely creative individual who always seeks opportunities to enhance knowledge & experience in the field of architecture.